The Motuhora Branch line was conceived in the late 1800s, as a means to service the timber milling and agricultural areas of the region. Today’s walkway explores some of the remains of the days when rail was king.
The main entry to the track is from the large signposted rest area on the northern side of SH2, 38.5 km from Makaraka. The track starts down the steps, which lead to Mahaki Tunnel.
The other entry point to the track is 6.7 km further on, opposite Otoko Hall. Just after crossing the bridge, turn right into the vehicle track to where the start of the track is signposted through the gate.
To avoid returning via the same route, you’ll need to organise vehicles being left at both ends of the track. Or hitchhike.
The entire track is marked with orange triangles on squat yellow posts. For most of the length it is clearly apparent you are walking along an old railway line.
After descending the steps to Mahaki Tunnel, which is unsafe to enter (check the cracks in the concrete portal), the track heads though open pasture on the valley floor. Most of the time the embankments raise the line from the paddocks above the Waihuka River (45 minutes).
At the concrete piers of the former bridge, the track crosses the river (wet feet unavoidable without waterproof boots) and weaves through a series of cuttings and a sections of bush. Fish plates, concrete sumps and spikes line the vicinity of the track (45 minutes).
Entering Otoko Scenic Reserve the track becomes narrower and shaded (15 minutes). Kereru fly between perches on manuka, kowhai and kawakawa.
The track heads sharp left and descends to the river again, exiting the walkway by old sleepers and a gate (15 minutes) just below SH2.
The Motuhora Branch line was conceived in the late 1800s, as a means to service the timber milling and agricultural areas of the region. Construction began in 1900 and was carried out by the Public Works Department, who initially based the workers in a construction camp at Makauri. By 1902, the first 10 miles to Ormond were completed and the service carried 4000 passengers that year.
After bridging the Waipaoa River at Kaiteratahi, the section to Te Karaka was completed 3 years later. In 1907, the line had reached the foot of the Otoko Bank and crossed the Waikohu Stream.
The Otoko Bank section, which the walkway follows today, was constructed with pick and shovel. Debris was transferred to end-tip and side-tip trucks, then loaded onto work trains. In 1909, 450 men were digging hard on the Waihuka Valley section. The extension to Otoko was only possible with completion of the Otoko Viaduct, but work continued up line before the viaduct was useable. Materials were transported on a steel cable over the valley until 1912, when contractors Griffiths and Co Ltd of Greymouth, finished the work.
In 1917, the final portion of the 48-mile line to Matawai (1,714 feet above sea level) was completed. All rolling stock was fitted with air brakes to cope with the descent. The ‘mixed’ trains carried both passengers and freight, but winter conditions were sometimes harsh and passengers were supplied with foot warmers to comfort their chilly toes. Trains departed from Motuhora at 7.15 am and took 3 hours 25 minutes to reach Gisborne. The return journey took 4 hours 10 minutes.
When timber supplies near Motuhora started to dwindle, the three mills became uneconomic to run, making the line unviable. The line closed in 1959 and the tracks were pulled up soon after.
North Island ▷ Out East ▷ Gisborne
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Thanks to all the good people working for the NZ Department of Conservation - for all your hard work - making NZ more beautiful, accessable and healthy! Cheers 😍